Solitary confinement of child ruled unlawful

The Howard League for Penal Reform has won a very important legal case, which should protect child prisoners from prolonged solitary confinement without regular reviews and education. It was deeply disappointing, however, that the High Court did not also find that the child’s isolation for more than 100 days did not amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The charity intends to appeal this.

Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39, said:

“Today’s judgment shines a bright light on the devastating conditions children are routinely forced to endure in child prisons. The case concerns a boy with learning difficulties and special educational needs who was isolated in Feltham’s juvenile prison for a period of four months, eating his meals alone in his cell, receiving very little or no education and at best spending minutes each day in the open air. This was found to have breached his right to mental and physical integrity under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and to have contravened prison rules pertaining to education and to the use of solitary confinement.

“This important case concerns a child with profound vulnerabilities, all known by the authorities. He was placed on the child protection register as a baby, and then again at six years old. He entered residential care at the age of seven and, in the judge’s words, ‘has been in a succession of residential placements which all broke down’. The judgment contains five lines depicting how the boy felt about his confinement, ending with: ‘[He] felt tired from doing nothing and having no motivation. He sometimes had bad dreams’.

“It is inexplicable that the judge did not also find that the boy’s treatment in prison amounted to a breach of article 3 of the ECHR, protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The jurisprudence around solitary confinement is very adult-centred and the international definition – confinement for 22 hours or more – was developed for adults and children alike. The appalling suffering and damage done to children by isolation for shorter periods must be recognised, and I am pleased the Howard League for Penal Reform plans to appeal this part of the decision.

“How many of us could bear to have our own children isolated in a room the size of a bathroom for hours on end, with human contact restricted to shouts through a locked door? Remarkably, the judge referred to a television providing the boy with ‘a human voice’, though on many occasions even this was taken away from him because of his inevitable disruptive behaviour.”

Read the judgment here.